The impact of french and british colonial rule on the he system in cameroon from the perspective of students

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CHAPTER 5 – Analysis II: A Contemporary Perspective

This section will begin by explaining the method of data collection followed by the analysis for the second analytical chapter. .

5.1. Method of data collection

As earlier mentioned above, the study employed a qualitative method of data collection which consists of the content analysis of semi-structured interviews, review of national policy documents and various literatures on the case study and current trends on global HE related issues. Since the study was aimed at observing how compatible or incompatible the French and Anglo-Saxon cultures co-existed in the HE system in Cameroon. Two sets of instrument were used.

Firstly, semi-structures interview were used for analysis of the student experience on the interaction between the two traditional systems of the education and their impacts. The rational for the use of the semi structure interview was based on its flexibility. Since to the respondents in Cameroon belong to the English and French speaking background some of which were not proficient in English but the researcher interpreted and analysed their responses with ease. The semi structured interview comprised of eight qualitative open-ended questions.

1). Based on your personal experiences, what are your general thoughts on or feelings about the

education system? Elaborate on your likes, dislikes and any relevant experiences.
2).What do you think about the standard of education? If you have studied outside Cameroon,

how do you think the standards in Cameroon compare to those of your host country?

3).What did you think of your teachers in general?
4).Would you like your children to go through the educational system?
5). How do you find the system of education in Cameroon? Does this favour the job market?
6). Do you prefer Cameroon to run a single education system or the double education system? Give reasons for your choice
7). What is your experience about the management of higher education institution in Cameroon?
8). Do you think any reforms or improvements are needed in the education system? If your

opinion is “yes,” what suggestions do you have?

Secondly, primary materials comprised of original policy documents at the system and institutional level on the various joint and separate policy options in Cameroon were reviewed. The various documents included, Presidential decrees, Ministerial “Arretes” for the system and Division, Memoranda and Service Notes on the institutional levels.
5.2 Data Analysis

Considering the multiplicity of issues in any national system of HE, one of the challenging tasks of the study was the necessity to sort out aspects of common concerns between the French and English subsystems in the Cameroon bicultural HE system to provide the focus on the analysis. Also, to this effect, the portion of the conceptual frame by Watson which stresses system differences with respect to beliefs and culture in his theory of shaping educational policies are useful to the study. The various aspects and issues raised in the theoretical framework were viewed and broken down into sub-topics as follows; personal experience and language, curriculum quality, career policy, management and reforms.
5.3. Presentation of Results
This section present the data which were retained from the interviews and review of policy documents on system differences in education in Cameroon. 20 students where interviewed 10 from English background and 10 from French background. According to their responses it was necessary to present it into three groups:

- Students who preferred the English system

- Student who preferred the French system

- Student who preferred both systems

The information on the questionnaire will be analysed according to the responses given by the respondents.

A histogram was established to represent the results in three groups. These groups were established based on the direction of responses of the students’ experiences. Student who preferred the English system of education had the highest number (10) followed by students who preferred French (6) system and finally student who preferred both systems (4).

Figure 3. A diagrammatic presentation of research responses
From the 20 students that where interviewed 10 of the student preferred the English system HE. From the responses it appears that they were responding according to their own culture and beliefs, which is in line with Watson’s theory. Most students agreed that Cameroon has a high standard of education but from their personal experiences as students who had studied in both systems of education had great potential to make a valuable judgement.

From their view, Cameroon opted for “individual bilingualism” upon the reunification of the French and English Cameroon in 1972. The bilingualism was aimed at rendering its citizens proficient in both official languages (French and English). Like professor Fonlon, observed that though Belgium and Canada were old in bilingual tradition, their citizens were largely monolingual12. He argued that it was going to be unrealistic or rather unwise for Cameroon not to take advantage of the colonial heritage to create a strong bilingual state that reflects the citizens13. Most of the scholars have argued the individual bilingualism in Cameroon seemed to have been unrealistic especially in the educational setting and it related to primary processes. Jikong (2004) attributes most of the weaknesses in the individual bilingualism as part of the national educational policy to its disregard of certain aspects of language planning. He agued that, because of economic considerations which lay behind language planning, the inappropriate language policy in Cameroon’s HE over the years had victimized so many students. The interviews revealed that the victims had been largely the English speaking students since the system is dominantly skewed towards the French tradition and language. An analysis of some literatures (Mbassi 1983, 285; Jikong (2004)) suggests that bilingual policy in Cameroon ignored a very critical element of language planning which is that the various languages within a polity are non competitive. Jikong (2004) is of the opinion that, with individual bilingualism, everybody is involved with the consequences that follow because it is the choice of the individual to meet up with bilingualism challenges. Scholars have cautioned the tendency of an inappropriate language policy impinging on some fundamental human rights and freedoms, the philosophies of ‘equal opportunity and right’ which equally apply to the use of language (Baker 1993).

It was on this good will that the University of Yaounde was created. It became the first testing ground for the bilingual policy which determined its specific identity as bilingual university. In addition to being a university where students can followed their lectures in both languages, its architects perceived a bilingual type of the university of Louvain, of ‘Two’ university in ‘one’ where Dutch and French are the language of instruction14. System and institution wise, one of the main problems in Cameroon HE had been that of maintaining language balance to the extent that it satisfactorily responded to educational needs of the student in consistent with their pre-university background. Based on personal experience in the defunct Bilingual University of Yaounde most of the programmes were predominantly taught in French. This situation created a problem of access, increase drop out and reduced the success of the Anglophones student. One respondent disclosed that in his days as a law student in University of Yaounde there was no English speaking instructor. Such linguistic problem increases the frustration of the Anglophone students. In the proceeding years most Anglophone students were compelled to travel to neighbouring Nigeria or to western countries if affordable. In an attempt to alleviate the language difficulties which grew with political undertones, the University of Buea was created in a monolingual Anglo-Saxon tradition. Evidence of the language difficulties is that immediately after the reform, a good number of candidates for teaching position in University of Buea came from Nigeria, some qualified Anglophone Cameroonians from abroad who had preferred to remain in the civil service voluntarily requested to teach in the University of Buea after its creation. Most respondents unequivocally did not see the creation of the University of Buea according to their personal experience as solution to language problem in the education system. Their augments were based on the changing character of the system and students demand which required commensurate adjustment. They contended that the problems were exacerbated by surging number of candidates for admission into English speaking university and programmes. Results of the 2005 General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced level were indicative of the persistence of language difficulties as follows:
Table 2: Enrolment of English-speaking candidates into University of Buea UB


No. Sat for


No. Passed (>2 papers)

Percentage %

No. into Uni


% into Uni

of FOL (UB)








83.61% (9308)

Table 2, source: Cameroon GCE Board (2005), UB ( 2006)
Based on capacity the University of Buea in that year admitted only 1,839 freshmen (16.49%) from the bulk of 11,147 who passed the GCE exams in two papers and above who might have been looking forward to study in their first official language (FOL). This implies that 9,308 (83.61%) of the English speaking high school graduates were bound to spread to the other dominantly French instructed universities where they must take studies in their second official language (SOL) or go abroad to pursue studies. Besides, of the 1839 freshmen that were admitted into UB, about 15% were said to be French speaking students since they certainly met its language requirement for admission. Anglophone students in the University of Yaounde I revealed that since most of their courses and studying materials were in French (their second language), their performances were negatively affected in comparison with their Francophone classmates who received lectures in their FOL (French).

The table below is a presentation of the state universities in Cameroon with their location and language of instruction. The “dominant” in this case represent a situation where, the two official languages are use but French language is more dominant in all aspect.

Name of university


Language of instruction

University of Yaounde I


French Dominant

University of Yaounde II


French Dominant.

University of Dschang


French Dominant.

University of Douala


French Dominant

University of Buea


Strictly English

University of Bamenda


Strictly English

University of Ngoundere


French Dominant

University of Maroua


French Dominant

Table 3; source: Adapted from MINESUP 2011 (List of state universities in Cameroon)
The students observed that the learning process was complicated since most often, they had to translate notes before reading and at times, the translated notes may not carry the appropriate substance required by the instructor as per his educational belief or the stylistic devices of the discipline. Some students from their responses further explained that it is difficult for the instructor to access an individual in a language which he or she is not very familiar with. Sometime exams are given in the language of instruction then the students are to answer the question in the language they are most familiar with, but this usually gives rise to the problem of proficiency, since neither the student nor the instructor is not very much familiar with their second languages. This same experience goes with French students in university, whose language of instruction is English.

However the responses of French students who had attended the English university were different. They indicated that their use of the English language being the second official language (SOL) did not pose any major challenges to their education because of several factors. They explained that despite the existence of other French universities it was their choice to seek admission to the Anglo-Saxon university which provided enough motivation for them to study in English. Secondly their admission was based on additional knowledge of English as a prerequisite for admission which was offered by the university as a preparatory course for Francophone Freshmen.

Thirdly, some students revealed that, they also benefited from the monolingual character of the university being the consistent use of one language (English) and its cumulative effect on their proficiency. To some extent, certain difficulties were cited based on methodological and cultural differences. The students further added that, from experience they were not so familiar with the English language but with constant paying of attention and the well structure and organised system of the Anglophone HE, it was easy for them to master their subject matter and come out to compete with Anglophone students in terms of overall best student upon graduation. This response can be found in the appendix on respondent number four, which came from a student of French education background.

Issues of interference on the students’ academic language were also reported in cases when the language of instruction is the FOL for both instructors and students as reflected in their presentation/exams. This is the case; English speaking students are affected on English-taught courses as this led to the observation of a students’ first language being affected negatively as a result of taken the both languages simultaneously. This seemed to be a natural linguistic phenomenon since the students are using both languages simultaneously in addition to their local Pidgin English (one of the Lingual Franca). Jikong (2004) observed problems associated with the language and substance. He cited the Maitrese thesis of Alice Njeck an Anglophone student at the national School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM) which revealed that the students are satisfied with their SOL. This constituted a serious impediment for access to certain professions

From the responses of the students in regards to the standard of education in Cameroon, it was based on the separate system. The respondents who had studied in both systems acknowledge that Cameroon has a high standard of education, but emphasised that the English system of HE is more specialized and professional and hope if given a chance in the national system, more could be improved generally. It is well noted that the English system has suffered marginalisation since independence but with the globalisation of the world education system, the government of Cameroon saw that English language is fast gaining grounds and becoming more universal in the world stage. This makes the demand for English language very high hence putting the government under pressure to divert more of its resources to promote the English system of education in Cameroon. A graduate from a Cameroon university can compete with any graduate from any university in the world especially those Cameroon graduates from the traditional English university which was established from the traditional English system. Prior to reforms, there dominantly existed in the Cameroonian system of HE, one tradition according to which University of Yaounde and the centres and institutes had been conceived, which corresponded in structure and content to that of the French university system. Due to certain inconsistencies, several reflection and attempts emerged as far as the 1970s on the adoption of a national simplified or unified degree structure. The Anglo-American two tier system had been perceived to be a simple and appropriate degree structure that could responds to national concerns for readability, comparability and mobility between the two university systems. With the creation of English speaking university the demand for a general classification of degree was emphasised. However, the attempt to adopt a common degree structure always met with several challenges, controversies and resistance until recently in 2006 when the “système LMD” ( Licence, Mastère, Dotorate) corresponding to the Bachelor, Master, PhD was adopted to go operational from 2008 ( MINESUP, 2006). Due to the several intermediary degrees in the French tradition, not all their equivalences existed in the Anglo-Saxon structure. It was a characteristic of the French tradition in Cameroon that each specified duration of studies (one to two years) be sanctioned by a certificate to report the differences in extra period of studies.

According to respondents the teaching quality of the instructors was that they are well qualified in general, but the instructors in the Anglo-Saxon university are more qualified and experienced since most of them had studied in other foreign universities. They are more flexible and put more diverse ideas into the subject matter during lectures. Respondent number two who is from English education background gave this response according to what he recounted as a practical experience during his life as a postgraduate student in the University of Yaounde. This can be confirmed in the aspect that during the early 1970s, it was very difficult for an English speaking Cameroonian to gain admission into HE institutions in Cameroon since the language of instruction was French and the curriculum was strictly on the French system. It made students whose pre-university background was in the English language goes abroad. With the reforms in early 1990s, the establishment of a traditional Anglophone university with a traditional English system most of this scholars were obliged to come home and lecture. This gave the English university possible grounds to have qualified teaching staff in comparison to their French counterparts. Not withstanding, this does not usually means the French universities do not have qualified teaching teams but the reality is that the French universities relied on home based scholars since they were opportune to take their full studies in Cameroon in the early days. The students also cited that some of the reasons were in terms of academic openness or flexibility, for example they perceive that an instructor from an English university will be diversified and think more widely because he had been exposed to different cultures as he gained them by travelling abroad while the French instructor who had been exposed only to single culture and tradition he become a more classical stereotype of that culture. They cited that this was common during conferences or one student indicated that during an inter-university brain trust competition organised by the Ministry for HE this occurred. See respondent number twelve and ten in the appendix.

From the 1970s it took PhD holders (both the Anglo-phones and Francophone who returned with qualification from English-speaking universities) a lot of petitioning for the system to arrive at a logical conclusion on the equivalence of the terminal doctorate degree according to the French system of classification. This confusion in the qualification of degree equivalence also created the system certain equity challenges on promotion of instructors. Promotion to certain ranks favoured instructors from particular backgrounds than the others. Instructors who had degree from countries other than France smoothly entered the ranks of Lecture and Associate Professor ( equivalent to Assistant Professor in the American system) but had difficulties in attaining the final rank of professor. On the other hand, instructor with French qualification could easily accede to the various ranks. In the early years, the recruitments were subjected to foreign conditions (predominantly the ‘Concour d’agregation’ or Inscription sur les listes d’ Aptitudes Francaises). (ADEA/WGHE 1999 p4) The imported conditions rendered the accommodation of qualifications from English-speaking University difficult since the criteria predominantly reflected the French system. Also, the promotion policy did not seem to favour a certain category of French-speaking instructors predominantly from the French-speaking universities system as per the nature of teaching, institution and qualification. This implies to instructors in professional institution since their qualifications were more productive than research-oriented and did not require a terminal degree (PhD or Doctorate), they found difficulties in meeting general requirements for promotion.

The issue that was raised to get the view of the respondents if they would like their children to go through the education system in Cameroon, most of the responses was positive but only on grounds that the state is now becoming more flexible to adopt most of properties of the English system of education. They added that the problems with HE in Cameroon is not a matter of language but stressed on the point that the predominantly French system of education is making the education system in Cameroon very slow in comparison to the Anglophones university (Buea University) where there has been great progress in the past years. More could be seen on the response of respondent number, two, six, eight and thirteen on the appendix.

They also stated that the main problem with education in Cameroon is the fact that most universities are managed by the state, as well as the appointment of rectors, vice chancellors, and deans of faculties. But hoping for the best if the Anglo-Saxon cultures and beliefs are taken into full practice where the senates are to vote the rectors/Vice chancellors like what is happening in neighbouring Nigeria then Cameroon will have a qualified and more improved education system. Sometimes it is referable to encourage your child to attain such a system because he or she will take advantage in studying in both languages, but in this situation, the key issue here is that Cameroon does not have a standardized curriculum which is applicable in the both systems, the problem of structure and system differences posed lots of trouble to scholars though linguistic problem can slow down a learning process.

With respect to career orientation, according to the respondents the two systems differences were minimal at the research levels in the fact during academic research be it between instructors or students from different systems everything is treated at the level of academics. One of the key things I wanted to find in this part of the questionnaire was to find out what happens when a mixed team of Francophone and Anglophone researchers has to carry out a study and publish their research findings. From the respondents it was revealed that several works have been done by such teams and such differences have never been paid attention to due to maturity factors (which equally militate in favour of join postgraduate degree programme). Also, Cameroonians were said to publish their articles in French or English journals and some respondents noted that the trend was moving towards English journals irrespective of whether they were English or French-speaking Cameroonians. However, certain respondents also cited problems on divergent perceptions on the administration and concentration of university research and differences in methodological approaches. This can be found on respondent number nine, eleven, seventeen, one and three. The divergences corroborated with the assertion on existing variation between systems on the integration of research into teaching, their differentiation, the degree of interdependence with regards commitment to specialized knowledge or general education. For instance, in Germany, Britain and the Americas they have often had the long Humboltian tradition of assigning research to universities as an integral part of professorial roles. On the other hand, the French system considers that the university tests and teaches and that research requires the support of different structures of academies, institutes and centres (Clerk 1983, 98).

Methodologically, Francophone’s in Cameroon (according to the interview) were said to be generally oriented to theoretical research rather than the Anglophones who employed their time on practical research. This brings us to the point that the respondents assert that the Anglo-Saxon system of education is more pragmatic, in the English system students are oriented toward career goals, despite the level of unemployment English graduates are more into self-reliance than the Francophone graduates. In the other way round Francophone pre-university study is more of career oriented but at the HE level is more theoretical. Respondents explained that the government of Cameroon integrates graduates into the public service based on post university study, by writing a state exam and then gaining admission into a profession, which is a typical traditional French system of education. This killed the ambition of English graduates whose universities courses had a professional approach. Since the French system laid more emphasis on theoretical applications at the university, the aspect of attaining a professional school after university studies is highly encouraged. It is at this juncture where the heart of Cameroon’s corruption into public service is highly practiced a typical example is the cancellation of result of entrant’s exams into the school of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM) by the minister of finance, Cameroon Post (2004 pp9). Students are not admitted into the professional out of merit but on the government policy to maintain regional balance and sine the English population occupies just a minimum portion of the national population despite their academic potentials they are relegated sometimes even marginalized. But not withstanding, overall the respondents felt that the English system in respect to HE is more professional and market or career-oriented than the French system.

From student perspectives if they preferred Cameroon to run a single system, the responses were positive in favour of the English system. A French student who had studied in the English university and had learnt from experiences from the colleagues who had studied only in the single French system came into the agreement that English system of HE is better. This can witness from the responses of French students who studied in English system and are now studying in western countries abroad. They revealed that studies abroad are more pragmatic and professional. They hold the view that group study is not of a common phenomenon in the French education system but they could only experience that when they had to switch to the English system when they where in Cameroon. They talk of excursions, field trips and just to name a few, one other respondent acknowledged the fact that it took him very long time to adapt to the western system of education which was other than the French systems. From the high trend of globalising education one will suggest that since the English system of education meets the universal challenges it should be better adopted in Cameroon in order to maintain efficiency. One respondent believed in sticking to cultural heritage and spoke bluntly to the fact that the current way the system is being run should be maintained. His justification was that Cameroon uses this as a aspect to indentify herself in the world education system. Normally from this work no one is in the opinion to wipe out the French tradition but most scholars are just on the opinion to limit the old French traditional system of education which is predominantly practised in Cameroon. Pertaining to the fact that this system is more complex and inflexible it gives all the impetus for a switch so as to save future generations from global educational challenges.

The management of HE institutions is state run as responded by the students. They testify that, the management of universities in Cameroon had not been very poor in terms of internal management and administration but policy implementation and external management (state) has always been a call for concern. It is well noted according to the responses, most of the university unrest has been a misunderstanding between the state and the university administration which affects the student directly. The implementation of tuition fees in 1993 and the cancellation of student bursaries brought a serious problem in the HE calendar in Cameroon in 1993. (MNE 1993). A current problem is also seen in London where the Parliament implemented tuition fees and the students were furious about such a decision. In Cameroon this has long been an existing story. Also the fact that most university administrators are appointed and not voted in, this brings lots of corruption and backbiting. Since most administrators want to act according to the interest of their employers not to the general interest of the institution, this conflict between the university administration and the students are more frequent. With the Anglo-Saxon system of management, the vice chancellor to run the university is voted and the management of the university is voted and he runs the affairs of the university for a stipulated time. The student body is represented during senate meetings by a student representative who is the head of the student organisation known as the Student Union. The Student Union acts as a communication medium between the students and the administration, when such a group is lacking in the university management such instabilities are bound to occur in the universities in Cameroon. The academic literature indicated that sometimes research grants have been given for research projects not out of merit sometime is how the professor is influential on state politics, this has always been reflected from the declining numbers and dilapidation of some of our pioneer research institutions like the Ekona Geological Centre (Bate 2006,p 26). In addition some infrastructural projects that are financed by the state are done out of merit but sometimes for political reasons. According to Bate 2006, he post mark the moves of the government to construct and ultra modern student hall of residence at the campus of university of Yaounde I instead of providing infrastructure for the newly created medical school at the University of Buea as a sign of marginalisation. The reason behind this the fact that Yaounde I is the mother university and Yaounde is the capital of Cameroon and most be given due attention. Sometimes in education we look at the importance of the project not the prestige behind it. The problem with HE management in Cameroon are not a complex one since in the past most HE rioting had always originated from misunderstandings between state policy and how the university administration will apply this to the students.

Finally, the student perspectives on reforms are positive, attention was drawn on the success of the university reform in 1993 which saw the creation of the University of Buea (Anglo-Saxon University). The reason behind the creation of this university was to solve the problem of over population of the University of Yaounde I and the pressure the Anglophone Cameroon community was putting on the state since most English speaking Cameroon acquire HE from abroad if affordable. Some of the responses were in suggestion of harmonisation of the two education system but the English system should have more properties in the harmonisation text. Some other scholars are of the opinion that cultural identity of language should be maintained but the French education curriculum should be revised or to an extent wiped out to impose the English system nationally since it is more globally competitive and can stand future challenges.
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